By: Mariah S. Perry
I was fortunate to spend four amazing years at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina as a Bonner Scholar. The Bonner Scholars Program was created by Corella and Bertram F. Bonner to grant “access to higher education and an opportunity for students to serve.” Community service is at the heart of this program.
My freshman year, I explored the different service opportunities offered through my program. Taking advantage of every opportunity, I did not realize the influence this program would play in the next three years of my life.
My sophomore year, I narrowed my focus to one service site called Project Community, which focused on bridging the gap between Guilford College and the Greensboro community by providing events that allowed both communities to learn from each other. This experience taught me how to be an effective mentor and understand the importance of meaningful reflection. Moreover, I was able to strengthen my communication, time management and organization skills.
The following year, I became a leader within Project Community. The competencies I learned included volunteer management, exploring the best ways to effectively host events for children, learning best practices for running an effective meeting, engaging an audience and working with a diverse group of people.
Finally, in my senior year, I was able to couple my service with academics. I led a mini workshop with the youth at a local high school focused on the effects of colorism on young adults. At the conclusion of this experience, I began to wonder what options I had for continuing this line of work where cultural exploration and education quality was the predominate attention.
After researching some potential job opportunities, I applied and was soon accepted to City Year Orlando. From start to finish, City Year stole my heart. Entering the “real world” in a new state was intimidating, but I did not let that interfere with my purpose. Enticed by the culture of City Year, I entered the school year like a kid in a candy store - excited and ready. I did not know what I was getting myself into when I began to power greet students as they walked into school, but I could tell that this would be a year of change.
The most challenging aspect of my service was taking on the role of Behavior Coordinator, in which I had to lead, plan and execute special events for students. Luckily, my exposure to this type of work as a Bonner Scholar provided a smooth transition. My proven ability to create and facilitate events for students produced a positive outcome at my kick off and end of the year events.
Furthering my passion for event planning, I joined Corps Council. Our primary objective was to build morale within our site by hosting events that allowed the AmeriCorps members to build stronger relationships. This experience allowed me to work with a diverse group of people while also honing my communication and organization skills. I also participated in Physical Training (PT) Crew. This group is responsible for teaching the rest of the AmeriCorps members the City Year pledge, the call to service, some fun stretching and chants to wake up the locals and get the corps started for our day.
It was not long before I started recruiting my friends from college and high school through pictures and videos posted on my social media sites. Although it was not always a piece of cake, I began to love my teammates, the school where I served, and ALL of my students. The life lesson my students taught me is that love is a universal language that every student can understand. Now, when I go back to visit, my students greet me with a warm welcome and big smiles.
The Bonner Program at Guilford College allowed me to gain necessary skills for the workforce and City Year Orlando created an environment where I could acquire hands-on experience working with students in a Title I public middle school. My goal is to pursue a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and use this degree to create systemic change in education and continue on the path of changing the world.